The coronavirus has always loomed, hovering over MLB’s desires and plans to return in July.
It was shuffled into the background while owners and players negotiated to get a deal done, but here we are nearing the end of June, and it’s rearing its ugly head and making the possibility of a return of baseball a difficult one.
A day after eight people with the Phillies tested positive in Clearwater, Florida, where the team trains, four members of the Yankees’ organization in Tampa, Florida, tested positive for the coronavirus, the New York Post reported Saturday.
A player in the Astros’ organization and two with the Angels also have tested positive for the coronavirus in recent days.
The Blue Jays closed their spring-training facility Friday in Dunedin, not far from Clearwater, when a player had symptoms associated with the coronavirus. The Rangers and Giants, who train in Phoenix, closed their facilities this week.
Now all 30 teams are taking up the pandemic’s ‘‘stay home’’ plea and planning to train for the season — if there is one — in their home cities. Training at facilities in Florida and Arizona, two states experiencing coronavirus spikes, has been ruled out.
With all of this going on, owners and players were thought to be in the final hours this weekend of working out an agreement to resume baseball, but now the ongoing, dragged-out talks that have exasperated the game’s fans will drag on further.
A vote by the players on the owners’ 60-game proposal was at first expected Sunday, but, according to USA Today, it will be delayed for several days while the union gathers information on safety and health protocols because of the positive tests and shutdowns of camps.
The virus is now a “much bigger threat” to the season than the labor battle, a senior baseball official told ESPN on Saturday.
While they negotiate the plan to have teams playing games in their home ballparks by July 19 or so, it’s becoming apparent it could all fall apart quickly because of the virus.
Meanwhile, numerous new wrinkles to the game were being proposed by MLB in negotiations. Extra innings that start with runners on second base, games ending in ties and player re-entry are among the possibilities.
MLB included the controversial extra-inning runner rule in its proposal Wednesday for a 60-game season and also wants it for 2021.
The players’ union accepted the rule Thursday for 2020 only in its counterproposal for 70 games.
The union also said it wants to discuss allowing games to end in ties “after a certain number of innings” and “the relaxation of substitution rules in extra innings.”
If you’re that traditionalist who doesn’t like commissioner Rob Manfred’s ideas for change, you might not have to worry.
Because of the coronavirus, they might not see the light of day, anyway.
Contributing: Associated Press